A Tale of Two Eclipses

Two Solar Eclipses
By Teri Olsen

The two recent solar eclipses were a great excuse for our family to take a couple of road trip adventures. We had been planning these trips for the past four years! The viewing experience and atmospheric effects of each of the eclipses was completely different.

Annular Eclipse – October 14, 2023

On October 14, 2023, we saw the annular ring eclipse – the Ring of Fire – near Mexican Hat, Utah. The day before, the three of us drove up there from Phoenix, Arizona, and camped just outside the northern boundary of the Navajo Nation and Monument Valley. We were directly on the centerline of totality. It was the middle of nowhere with no one else in sight, and the sky was completely clear. At its 10:31 am peak, the eclipse looked like the “one ring to rule them all” in the Lord of the Rings! It was quite a dramatic and awe-inspiring celestial display that we got to see for a total of 4 minutes and 46 seconds. We had brought our Orion StarBlast II 4.5 EQ Reflector Telescope with a specially fitted solar filter and a cell phone holder. Peter was snapping away from the beginning of the eclipse until totality. He got one of the best Ring of Fire photos I’ve ever seen (see photo below), just before his phone battery ran out! After that, we just watched it with our eclipse glasses. It looked amazing either way! At the peak of this eclipse, the sunlight was dimmer and the landscape took on the appearance of late afternoon, but not sunset or dark.

Total Eclipse – April 8, 2024

For the total solar eclipse on April 8, 2024, we had planned a 13-hour road trip from Phoenix to the small city of Ingram, Texas. This was the closest point that we could drive to and be right on the centerline. As we got closer to eclipse day, we knew the weather was going to be iffy. But we were taking a 10-day vacation during which time we were also going to visit the Space Center in Houston and SpaceX in Boca Chica, Texas. So we kept telling ourselves at least the trip wouldn’t be a total waste if we couldn’t see the eclipse. We got to Ingram a day ahead of time to scout out the area and look for a good viewing location. We had made our hotel reservations six months in advance, and even then we couldn’t find anything closer than an hour away! So we got up at 6:00 am the next morning to make the drive from San Antonio in order to beat the traffic. When we got to Ingram, we paid $20 to park in a big wide open field behind the volunteer fire station, just down the road from a replica of Stonehenge!

That morning it was foggy, and we were hopeful that the cloud cover would lift by noon. It kind of did, but all morning there were fast-moving clouds going overhead at two different altitudes. When the partial eclipse started at 12:14 pm, we were able to catch glimpses of it in between the clouds as they moved past the sun. Unfortunately, during the critical 4 minutes and 25 seconds of totality starting at 1:31 pm, we never got a great view of the eclipse or the ethereal rays of the bright white corona. With the cloudiness, we didn’t have a chance of seeing any stars or planets, either. Another thing we didn’t plan ahead for, was that we wouldn’t be able to take a close-up photo through the telescope’s solar filter during totality! We were all scrambling to get our cell phones out and only had seconds to snap a shot when the eclipse appeared between the clouds. The photo shows the best we could see of the total eclipse. However, we could still see the dramatic effects on the landscape of a 360-degree sunset bordering on deep twilight. It was so dark that the street lights came on! When the sun came out again, some birds were flying erratically overhead, probably because they were confused.

In our case, the Ring of Fire was a totally awesome unforgettable experience. The total eclipse was unique and interesting, better than nothing when it comes to once-in-a-lifetime eclipses, but a bit disappointing nonetheless. You know what was really cool??? Standing on Boca Chica Beach with the SpaceX launch tower right in front of us!

Did you get to see either of the solar eclipses? What was your experience like?

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